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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Stokes, C.R., Sanderson, J.E., Miles, B.W.J., Jamieson, S.S.R. & Leeson, A.A. Widespread distribution of supraglacial lakes around the margin of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Scientific Reports. 2019;9:13823.

Author(s) from Durham


Supraglacial lakes are important to ice sheet mass balance because their development and drainage has been linked to changes in ice flow velocity and ice shelf disintegration. However, little is known about their distribution on the world’s largest ice sheet in East Antarctica. Here, we use ~5 million km2 of high-resolution satellite imagery to identify >65,000 lakes (>1,300 km2) that formed around the peak of the melt season in January 2017. Lakes occur in most marginal areas where they typically develop at low elevations (<100 m) and on low surface slopes (<1°), but they can exist 500 km inland and at elevations >1500 m. We find that lakes often cluster a few kilometres down-ice from grounding lines and ~60% (>80% by area) develop on ice shelves, including some potentially vulnerable to collapse driven by lake-induced hydro-fracturing. This suggests that parts of the ice sheet may be highly sensitive to climate warming.

Department of Geography